‘An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape, the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.’
(LUCY LIPPARD, OVERLAY, quoted in Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit (pp.6-8)).
I think mindful walking enables us to release our afflictive emotions like anger, as we take each step. In formal mindful awareness practices involving walking, you usually take 10-12 steps, stop and then retrace your steps, repeating this for a certain length of time.
The beauty of this wonderful quote above, that caught my eye, is that I think longer walks also have this capacity.
What afflictive emotion could you walk out of your system?
One of my favourite mindful awareness or meditative practices is mindful walking. Within the formal meditation you take a certain number of steps, with your focus of attention on the soles of your feet, the movements that make up a step, and the streams of awareness inside you that are your senses. Along with this focused attention you can cultivate an open awareness to gravity as it acts on your body as you slow your movements down, your balance, sounds around you…
You can of course go on an extended walk as a mindful awareness practice, a walk of being rather than doing. As I’ve practiced the more formal meditation, in places like this little garden in the grounds of the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital (RNOH) in Stanmore I noticed that my mind began to clear and difficult decisions became easier as if in the process of walking the negativity within was trailing out behind me.
I was reminded of a story about Desert Father Moses, which is quoted in Rowan William’s little book ‘Silence and Honey Cakes’ (p.29). In the story Moses is invited to a meeting where a fellow monk is to be judged because he has sinned. First, Moses refuses to go, and then when someone goes to fetch him, Moses takes a leaky jug filled with water with him.
When asked why, Moses replies, ‘My sins run out behind me and I cannot see them, yet here I am coming to sit in judgement on the mistakes of somebody else.’ (Williams, 29)
Moses here is talking about the existence of our sinful trail through life as a negative reality. However, through my experience of mindful walking I’ve realised we can use such a walk in a contemplative way, where we intentionally allow what has been sinful in our life, the mistakes, to run out behind us in confessional awareness – to bring us to a state of forgiveness in our relationship with God.
This active way of contemplating through a walk, may help us to actually let go of our mistakes, and when we have noticed them, asked and received for forgiveness – actually move on, rather than clinging endlessly in negative rumination to those mistakes.
In the process we arrive, not at a place of self-critical judgement, or a projected judgement of others, which Jesus himself asks us to leave behind (Matthew 7:1-5) but a place of clear seeing in which we can take the ‘rain forest’ out of our own eye before we try and take the speck of dust out of someone else’s eye.
Fear and anger, guilt and shame stop us seeing clearly, and silt up our ability to respond wisely to our mistakes. In our contemplative and confessional walking, we can let this silt run out behind us. Usually, then, we can find a place of wisdom and compassion and freedom rather than fear and continued slavery to our sinful habits.